A Northwest Side man with a long history of arrests has been charged with the brutal rape of a teenage girl who remains in critical condition nearly a month after the attack, authorities said.
Detectives were led to Luis Alberto Pantoja, 25, through DNA collected from a condom wrapper found near the Belmont Cragin backyard where the girl was assaulted just before dawn Dec. 17, according to a law enforcement source.
Pantoja was arrested at his home on Friday without incident, police said in a statement, saying additional physical evidence was recovered then.
Pantoja, of the 5500 block of West Wrightwood Avenue, is charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated battery and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. He was ordered held without bail during a hearing today.
Authorities asked for a sign language interpreter during the hearing. Pantoja is hearing-impaired, according to a police report.
Pantoja was found with a .32-caliber revolver but it was unclear if he had it during the attack, authorities said.
The attack happened in 2400 block of North Long Avenue about 5:25 a.m., police said. The girl was found by a neighbor about two hours later, half-clothed and bleeding from the head.
At a Sunday afternoon news conference, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy congratulated Area North detectives and officers from the Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force on the arrest.
He said the investigation found the girl was attacked an hour earlier than detectives originally thought. The was on her way to catch a bus so she could meet her father, who was to give her a ride to school, McCarthy said.
He said the girl would usually leave a little later in the morning, which is why police thought the attack occurred not long after 6 a.m.
"This was really important because it helped our detectives pinpoint the offender's whereabouts at the time of the incident," McCarthy said at a Northwest Side police station, flanked by investigators involved in the case. "With the new time of occurrence a second canvass revealed possible witnesses who subsequently picked the offender out of a physical lineup."
The DNA evidence was submitted to the Combined DNA Index System -- a federal database that tracks DNA profiles of convicted felons. Chicago police acquired a match from that database because Pantoja had been required to submit a sample of his DNA to law enforcement following a felony conviction for his role in a fatal 2007 traffic crash.
In that case, Pantoja was sentenced to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections after pleading guilty on March 4, 2008 to possession of a stolen motor vehicle and failure to report a traffic crash that involved death, records show.
In a plea deal, charges of reckless homicide and failure to report an accident involving death were dropped, records show.
The 15-year-old girl was initially reported in a coma with severe head injuries. Late last month, officials said the girl's condition had improved and she was talking with police. Police said Sunday she remained in critical condition at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
"She's doing better. Her and her family are taking it day by day, but we can only keep her in our thoughts and hope she improves. But she is doing better," Area North Cmdr. Gary Yamashiroya, whose detectives worked on the investigation.
Pantoja has a long criminal record dating back to 2005, with arrests and charges for theft, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, domestic battery after an order of protection was filed, trespassing, possession of cannabis, failure to report an accident involving death/reckless homicide, leaving the scene of accident, and eluding police.
In August of 2013, Pantoja was arrested for criminal sexual assault. The attack happened at about 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 15 on the 5400 block of West Diversey Avenue when a 24-year-old woman was walking.
According to court records, Pantoja grabbed the woman by the arm,pulled her into an alley and sexually assaulted her. Pantoja was arrested after an investigative alert was issued in the case.
On Aug. 29, a public defender was appointed and appeared before Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil, who set bail of $200,000.
On Pantoja's next court date Sept. 17, Judge Laura Marie Sullivan dismissed the charge on a finding of no probable cause, records show. Details were not available.
Following the news conference, Ald. Ariel Reboyras, whose 30th Ward covers the area of the attack, praised the Chicago Police Department for all its hard work on the case.
"When folks want to get someone they're gonna get him," he said. "The community needs to be vigilant. I thank God that they got this guy. I'm just hoping now that she (the victim) does well...It's gonna take a while, but were hoping to God that she comes through and she lives a normal life. It's gonna be very difficult. I feel for her parents."
Nicholas Sposato, another Northwest Side alderman who represents the 36th Ward, echoed Reboyras' sentiment about the police department's efforts.
"Through the hard work and dedication of our police officers, that's why they caught this...I'm gonna call him a scumbag," Sposato told a reporter. "And you can quote me on that."
Tribune reporter Adam Sege contributed.